Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “Happiness is not a goal; it is a byproduct.” As humans, we often believe that when we buy a house, or fall in love, or receive that well-deserved promotion at work, we will be truly happy. But why do we infer that happiness is only attainable through milestone events or achievements?
The reality of this tendency is that it may not be happiness that we are seeking and experiencing on a daily basis but instead satisfaction. Perhaps we live our day-to-day lives pursuing the things that make us happy, which then contributes to our overall sense of satisfaction.
If you look up happiness and satisfaction in a dictionary, the two definitions are quite similar. Both use words such as “joy” and “contentment,” describing a pleasant and delighted emotion. But why is it then that people often say, “Do what makes you happy” but never think to advise “Pursue what satisfies you”? It may have a different ring to it, but it is a good indicator of a different sense of contentment.
We reached out to cognitive behavioral therapist and clinical psychologist Jennifer Guttman, Psy.D., to better distinguish happiness and satisfaction.
The difference between happiness and satisfaction.
Research shows that the most frequent uses of the word happiness revolve around describing someone’s personality, as in being characterized as a happy person. It is also used in association with materialism and experientialism, conveying that when you purchase or experience something, you may experience happiness. Although definitions are vague and vary, happiness ultimately seeks to portray a moment of temporary bliss.
“Happiness is fleeting,” Guttman explains. “Happiness is a feeling someone gets when they experience something out of the ordinary that brings them joy. With that feeling, a neurotransmitter, dopamine, is released, which gives us an elevated mood state. However, this elevated mood state is not sustainable because it’s reliant on the release of this neurotransmitter.”
Satisfaction, on the other hand, is an enduring feeling experienced for a longer period of time, as a result of the collection of life events and feelings you’ve experienced. Guttman describes satisfaction as a more balanced, sustainable state because it’s not neurotransmitter-dependent the way happiness is.
Or as Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., Nobel Prize winner and psychologist, explained in his TED Talk, we experience happiness in our lives as well as happiness with our lives. This latter principle is akin to the concept of satisfaction, which we experience more frequently and thus influences our attitudes and behaviors. Satisfaction is a better indicator of how content we feel toward our lives overall and may contribute to more mindful decisions that bring our lives meaning.
For example, you come home from a long day at work and are greeted by a package at your front door of a new pair of shoes that you had ordered a few days prior. At the moment of opening that package, you might experience excitement and happiness. The moment then passes, and you are onto your next activity. However, each day you wear those shoes, you are reminded of your purchase and are satisfied. Therefore, feeling satisfied has a longer-lasting impact on people’s moods, whereas experiencing happiness is an instantaneous, temporary sensation.
Which is more important?
Guttman describes satisfaction as a more long-term and tangible solution than happiness. “When people think ‘happy’ as joy or effervescence is attainable, it creates cognitive dissonance when that feeling is not sustainable,” she explains.
That said, happiness and satisfaction are intertwined, as “most people experience satisfaction on an ongoing basis, interspersed with moments of happiness,” Guttman explains. “They are both attainable, but satisfaction is more sustainable.”
“People become more satisfied by becoming more self-confident, self-reliant, by developing a strong sense of self, by developing a sense of their effectiveness in the world, and by believing in their inherent lovability,” Guttman says.
To strengthen your sense of self, she recommends finishing tasks (not just starting them), making decisions for yourself, facing fears, and avoiding people-pleasing behaviors. Facing your fears, for example, may not make you happy—but it sure is satisfying.
2. Write down at least one good thing that you experience each day.
As the saying goes: Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day. Especially in today’s current climate, you may feel that your daily routine has become redundant and complacent. However, it is all about where you channel your energy and focus. Whether you meet an old friend for lunch or go for a relaxing bike ride, write it down. Those moments will turn into memories and will leave you feelingmore grateful and optimistic in the long run, as you are able to go back and read them. The benefits of gratitude are all about creating a sense of lifelong satisfaction, as opposed to simply seeking moments of exuberant happiness.
3. Put yourself out there.
Some research suggests extroversion is associated with more life satisfaction and overall well-being. Despite this pandemic, it is easier than ever to reach out to someone and make a new friend. From becoming a pen pal with a patient in a nursing home to just messaging an old friend you’ve lost touch with, you may rekindle or create new friendships that could enhance your interpersonal skills and revitalize your daily routine.
The bottom line.
Making happiness your destination may cause you to miss out on this exciting journey of life, a journey that has many twists and turns, with new opportunities appearing each day. Recognizing what makes you feel satisfied, on the other hand, can contribute to a more positive attitude and outlook on life while feeling more fulfilled. By living through this lens, we can experience not just moments of happiness but a lifestyle that is enduringly satisfying.
There’s no prize for coming last. But that doesn’t mean it holds no value at all.
We’re so obsessed with not measuring up to expectations that we can deny ourselves the permission to take chances. So many of us are risk averse. Paralyzed by the fear of failure. It robs us of our creativity and moments of spontaneity that are often the source of our greatest triumphs.
And although some may view failure as the end of the road, it’s far from being an absolute.
You’re meant to fail!
The key difference between those who allow their experiences to define them and those who view it as a challenge is attitude. You have a choice. What direction are your missteps going to take you? The only way is forward. “You fail your way to success.”
Letting Go of Everything You Ever Dreamed About…
When I was young, I was never the best at anything. I worked hard, and I always managed to reach the next milestone that was placed in front of me. But that’s about it.
However, I did have a talent for music that surfaced in my early teens. Again, I was never the best or most technical player. But I was creative, and I pursued it relentlessly. Like many others before and after me, I thought I was going to set the world on fire with a guitar in hand, wearing my heart of my sleeve.
It didn’t work out. Not even close…
My idea of success was all about me. It was an ego-centric vision. And through a combination of unfortunate injuries and just plain running out of career options in my mid-twenties, I admitted defeat. At the time, it crushed me… I’d invested more than ten years into learning multiple instruments, and to lean on the old cliché—it was my entire world.
But I had to make a change.
It was the first time in my life I’d ever had to step away from something and say, “Okay, this isn’t working. What else is there for me?”
Looking back now, in many ways, it was a very grounding experience. I was perhaps guilty of being a little too cocksure and overly ambitious. I can see how it was necessary, that it was a failure which came as an intervention of sorts, allowing me to steer my life in a new direction – one that would ultimately hold far more meaning…
At twenty-six, I decided to reskill myself. So I went back into full-time education to study creative writing. I’m a self-confessed right-brainer. And if one creative avenue was now closed to me, I was at least going to make sure I could still lead an interesting life.
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ~Denis Waitley
Now, instead of the egocentricity of being a musician, I wanted to be a fantasy novelist!
Different setting, same mindset.
But all that changed during my third and final year of university. As part of a work-based module, I had to create and deliver a writing-based project that would benefit the local community. At the time, homelessness was becoming an increasing issue, so I chose to offer poetry writing workshops at a local YMCA shelter.
And that’s where the switch flipped for me. It was a paradigm-shifting experience.
Up until that point, I had a fixed idea of what my success would—and should—look like. It was about me and myattainment. It had never really included what I could for others. But over the course of six weeks working with a disadvantaged social group that changed very quickly.
Poetry is a hard sell, even to a many writers. But here I was trying to get people engaged who were the furthest thing from an ideal audience. Many of those who attended suffered from mental health issues. They weren’t always thatinterested and sometimes didn’t show up at all
But they did respect me and gave the exercises their best effort. They didn’t always ‘get it.’ But they were willing, and I was grateful. Around half the attendees were illiterate/dyslexic, and as far as they were concerned, I was exposing their flaws. Except I wasn’t. I was trying to empower them. And slowly, this came off as the weeks progressed.
There were more than a few ‘aha moments’ in those workshops. But my biggest success was taking a young guy in his mid-twenties, who we’ll call Mike, from a place of zero confidence to complete elation at creating his own original piece, despite suffering from severe dyslexia.
I don’t have the superlatives to describe the moment other than to phrase it like this…
When Mike read his poem out loud, you could see him grasping something that wasn’t there before. You could see a change in his demeanor. He’d let go of his self-imposed limits. He ‘got it,’ and I got it, too. I could see the value of giving belief back to those who’d long-since written themselves out of the game.
It was a transformative experience for me and a real watershed moment.
I got a huge kick from having such an impact on someone’s well-being. I was completely enthused by a passion to help facilitate positive change.
“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ~John Bunyan
By that point, I was close to graduation, and let’s just say you don’t look for openings as a novelist in the classified columns. But here was something that I could do now. I could make a difference in people’s lives, whether through writing or some other means. I resolved that I would become a support worker and be of service in whatever way I could.
My vision of success was no longer about me. It was no longer about financial gain, status, or any other material trappings. The ‘thing’ I now sought was more intangible but was so much more valuable from a spiritual perspective.
From this vantage point, not making it as a musician didn’t feel like such wasted potential, anymore. That chapter of my life now appeared more akin to a stepping stone. I’d simply been redirected by synchronicity. It was confirmation and affirmation that as one door closes, another one is always opening.
Discovering What Could Not Have Been Found Otherwise
After I graduated, I volunteered at a breakfast club for the homeless on weekends. I then used that experience to gain a full-time position supporting young adults with autism, profound learning disabilities, and challenging behaviors at the beginning of 2016.
It was an incredibly enriching experience. And here, the theme of failure presented itself once more. I was employed to support people who lacked the capacity to effectively manage their own lives. But more importantly, I was there to promote their independence.
The mandate I had was to try, try, and try again with those in my care. It was my job to improve their quality of life and assist these people in the basic tasks we take for granted, such as brushing our teeth, getting dressed, and other ‘mundane’ activities.
There was no such concept as failure in that environment. It was completely redundant. How can you call someone a failure who’s willing to apply themselves day after day? You daren’t. Although that’s not to say there weren’t challenges.
In fact, it took months of hard work and positive reinforcement to make the breakthroughs we did. But once a skill was mastered, it stuck—and it’s moments like that drove you on to achieve more.
“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.” ~Jim Rohn
It was during this time that I again started to consider the merits of so-called “failure.”
I wondered, “Is the most effective way to learn really to get things right first time?” Obviously, within a care setting, you want to make progress as quickly as possible. But what about when you’re trying to gain mastery over a more complex skill?
Let me phrase it another way…
Who would you rather have as your teacher, the prodigious talent who’s been a natural since birth and was born to do [insert skill], or would rather have the other person?
The one who’s had to fight tooth and nail for every inch of their ability? The one who’s made every mistake possible and can pass on nuanced insights about what not to do?
I know who my choice would be.
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” ~Napoleon Hill
Failure, for all its negative connotations, has a definite and unquantifiable value. It’s a catalyst for growth. The more mistakes you make, the more complete your understanding becomes of a given craft. But not only that, it encourages you to self-reflect and self-analyze.
It creates a sense of accountability, forcing you to ask deep and challenging questions of yourself.
When you’re stuck at a hurdle, it can be deflating. But the ability to problem-solve and think your way out of dead-ends is a true life skill you can’t put a price on.
Think about how many times you’ve experienced the same frustrating setback time and again. But then one day, you crack the code. How did it feel when you eventually made that breakthrough? It was undoubtedly a feeling like no other, right?
And that’s because you know what you’ve achieved has been earned.
It has an integrative effect, and it holds far more in the way of value than simply being given the right way to do something. From adversity comes the ability to learn and create experiences that can then be called on as wisdom in later life.
The path of the most successful people in recent history speaks loud and clear about what failure truly means…
Stephen King had his manuscript for Carrie rejected by thirty different publishers before it was accepted, Walt Disney was fired by the Kansas Post for a “lack of imagination,” and Thomas Edison famously took 10,000 attempts to create the first lightbulb.
All of their successes were rooted in what must have appeared to be unending failure to the casual onlooker. But in their minds, they were always “failing forward.” They’d simply explored an avenue that didn’t yield a positive outcome. They reset and got back to work.
Your failures represent the greatest opportunity for learning and growth that you have at your disposal. Don’t take them to heart. Take them to the bank. Remember them. Analyze them. Etch them into your mind and vow never to make the same mistake again.
It’s a foolish person who laughs at those who’re willing apply themselves to a task in which they’re clearly out of depth. We should celebrate this kind of effort, not mock people for trying. We all have to start somewhere. Progress was never made without facing at least some form of hardship or setback.
That’s what I’ve come to learn through my own life, working with the homeless and those with profound learning disabilities. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall down; it’s about how you pick yourself back up.
It’s about how you respond.
Failure is an option.
There is no shame in it. For me, it represents a learning curve rather than an absolute. Failure is a label that we give ourselves based on our expectations. Again, these too, can also be changed. Your success is relative to where you’re standing right now.
You have a choice as to whether you drag the past around like a ball and chain, or whether you take ownership and start working with yourself instead of reinforcing your limitations.
Your failures aren’t the thing that’s holding you back… It’s you.
Are you one off those people who constantly need approval from everyone they know? Don’t you know that this is a damaging habit that will only add more stress to your decision making process and make it harder for you to do whatever it is that you want to do in life? Why do you think that other people should get a say in what you do or don’t do in life? By seeking approval from others you basically give them the power over your life and that’s completely and utterly wrong. It will not do you any good, on the contrary, it can only bring you misery and discontent so you need to stop doing it.
No one should have the power to decide what’s good for you and what’s not, other than yourself and here are a few other reasons that will convince you to never ask for approval from anyone but yourself.
5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ask for Approval from Anyone
You make your own happiness
It’s true that the people we love and care about make our life happier, but they aren’t the ones that make or break your happiness, you’re the only one responsible for that. Your happiness shouldn’t depend on what others think about you or what others say about you, you shouldn’t care about that. If you let your actions be guided by other people’s approval, you’ll never be truly happy. Remember that at the end of the day you are the one who needs to live with his decisions and you are the one who needs to be comfortable with them. No one else can know what you want in life better than yourself, so don’t worry about other people and make your own happiness. Remain true to yourself and to what makes you happy and make sure you follow that path.
You control your own life
You don’t just make your own happiness; you control your own life as well. Stop rushing to other people, asking for permission to do something, remember that you are your own master and you should decide what’s best for you. Listen to your heart and you’ll get all the guidance you need, from within. You are stronger than you think and wiser than you believe, you just need to let yourself follow your passion. People don’t know what they truly want to do with their own life, how can they know your life path? Trust yourself and let your soul guide you on this journey we call life.
You’re wasting precious time
Do you always run to your friends or family members whenever you need to make a decision about something? Can you imagine how much time you spend trying to convince everyone that you’re right or getting them to see things your way? And why? Just so that you’re sure in your actions, in your decisions? Asking other people’s approval only makes it tougher for you to reach a decision and it’s truly time-consuming. You’re wasting precious time; time that you could spend doing something you enjoy.
Don’t rely on others to support you, be your own biggest support. It’s OK to share your plans with your loved ones, but just that, inform them of your decision and don’t ask for their approval of support.
You can truly be free only if you rely solely on yourself
Can you imagine making a huge decision that will change your life all by yourself? Not to consult with anyone, not to ask for anyone’s advice, just follow your heart and gut? Yes, it’s possible to do it and you have everything you need to make this decision you just need to follow your gut instinct.
We can all be truly free only if we rely on ourselves and only if we know that we can make big changes in life without seeking anyone’s approval. It may seem scary at first but try it out, it’s so liberating. Rise to your potential and seize the day – that’s when you’ll experience true freedom.
Don’t even try to please everyone, it’s impossible
It’s completely normal to have people who don’t agree with what you say or what you do, that doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong. You just have different views and opinions in life and that’s all that is. If you try to please everyone and get everyone to like, you’ll end up feeling miserable because you’ll fail spectacularly. It’s absolutely impossible to get everyone to agree with you and you need to accept this and not let it affect your life. Moreover, the sooner you stop trying to please everyone, the sooner you’ll be happy.
It was 1962, the girls wouldn’t stop laughing and nobody knew why.
And even stranger, the laughter was spreading. Like a virus.
This was at an all-girls school in Kashasha, Tanzania. A few students had started laughing and they couldn’t stop. And this inexplicable behavior spread from girl to girl until 95 of the 159 students were affected. After 6 weeks the school had to close because of it. But that didn’t stop the laughter.
It had already spread to a neighboring village, Nshamba. 217 more girls afflicted. And then it spread to Bukoba, “infecting” 48 more girls.
All told this “outbreak” lasted 18 months, closed 14 schools, and affected over 1000 children.
Sound crazy? It’s true. While certainly uncommon, this kind of thing is not unheard of. During the Middle Ages there were outbreaks of “choreomania” – uncontrollable, infectious dancing that spread throughout Europe sometimes affecting tens of thousands of people at a time. And, no, I’m not making that up either.
Viruses aren’t the only things that spread through networks of people. Attitudes and behaviors do too. Yale professor Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, has studied how this works. A network can perpetuate anything in it: not just fads, fashion, and trends, but happiness, unhappiness, kindness and cruelty can also spread like a disease. When I spoke to Nicholas, here’s what he told me:
We’ve shown that altruistic behavior ripples through networks and so does meanness. Networks will magnify whatever they are seeded with. They will magnify Ebola and fascism and unhappiness and violence, but also they will magnify love and altruism and happiness and information.
A happy friend increases the likelihood of you being happy by 9%. An unhappy friend means a 7% decrease. Yes, happiness is more contagious than unhappiness. It’s the scientific version of karma. With the effect spanning out three degrees, there’s a good chance making a small effort to make friends happier will flow back to you. Nicholas found that if a friend became happy in the past six months there’s a 45% chance your happiness will increase. Neat, huh?
Hold that thought, I’ve got a second story for you:
Julius Wagner-Jauregg won a Nobel Prize in 1927 for “pyrotherapy.” Other than having the coolest name in all of medicine, pyrotherapy would go on to save tens of thousands of lives. This was before antibiotics, when syphilis was a scourge. There was no cure for it. But there was a cure for malaria. Here’s the thing: the bacterium that causes syphilis really doesn’t like heat. Meanwhile, malaria causes high fevers. So Wagner-Jauregg deliberately infected syphilis patients with malaria. The high fever killed the syphilis. Then you treat the malaria. Patient recovers from both. Triple word score.
Clever stories. But what’s this all mean?
A network can spread a virus — but it can also spread happiness, help, gratitude and optimism.
You can use one infection to fight another. “Fight fire with fire.”
So what if we start our own “pandemic” and use it to fight the current one?
It’s just a metaphor but that’s okay; I recently had my poetic license renewed at the DMV. Look, I’m in no way suggesting that spreading happiness and kindness right now is magically going to kill COVID-19. And I do not want to make light of something so serious.
But we need to stay positive, optimistic and hopeful to keep fighting this. We need to help each other. We need to protect our health, but to do that we have to protect our mental health, our spirit and soul to stay resilient.
Our ancestors didn’t climb their way to the top of the food chain to have their spirits broken by a few rogue strands of debatably-alive RNA. We’re not giving up hope. Humanity is not just going to crawl back into the primordial slime and close the door behind us. We can’t let this get us down or tear us apart.
So let’s start our own pandemic of positive emotions to keep our spirits strong for the battle ahead. We’ll fight fire with fire. We’ll spread connection, help, gratitude and optimism. And we’ll win.
Ready to get infectious?
1) Spread Connection
70% of your happiness comes from your relationships with other people.
Contrary to the belief that happiness is hard to explain, or that it depends on having great wealth, researchers have identified the core factors in a happy life. The primary components are number of friends, closeness of friends, closeness of family, and relationships with co-workers and neighbors. Together these features explain about 70 percent of personal happiness. – Murray and Peacock 1996
But with social distancing, some of us now have zero people around us. (Even yours truly lives alone.) And extended time without social contact is bad. Very bad.
Even months after they were released, MRIs of prisoners of war in the former Yugoslavia showed the gravest neurological damage in those prisoners who had been locked in solitary confinement. “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic head injury,” Gawande concludes.
Loneliness is the equivalent of being punched in the face. And that, dear reader, is not a metaphor.
Your stress response to both — the increase in your body’s cortisol level — is the same.
Feeling lonely, it turned out, caused your cortisol levels to absolutely soar—as much as some of the most disturbing things that can ever happen to you. Becoming acutely lonely, the experiment found, was as stressful as experiencing a physical attack. It’s worth repeating. Being deeply lonely seemed to cause as much stress as being punched by a stranger.
We may be quarantined and cut off from others to varying degrees, but this doesn’t mean we need to be lonely. Sound weird? It’s not. Stick with me.
Ever felt lonely in a crowd or lonely at a party? Yeah. The late John Cacioppo was the leading expert on loneliness. He said feeling lonely isn’t caused by the mere absence of people. We feel lonely because we’re not sharing with others, not connecting with them. That’s why you can be surrounded by people and still experience loneliness.
So reach out. Our new pandemic of positivity needs to spread that feeling of connection far and wide.
Send a text. Pick up the phone. Do a video call. Smoke signals and semaphore. Whatever. Just let people know you care and are thinking about them.
Have any of your relationships fallen dormant? Time for a reboot. Estranged from anyone? The force majeure clause has just been engaged. Reconnect.
You know how good it feels to be connected to others? Research does. It feels pretty close to an extra $76,856 a year:
So, an individual who only sees his or her friends or relatives less than once a month to never at all would require around an extra £63,000 a year to be just as satisfied with life as an individual who sees his or her friends or relatives on most days.
Reach out and tell people you’re thinking of them. We have the most powerful communication tools ever known to man at our fingertips, for free, 24/7. COVID-19 needs face-to-face contact to spread. Our pandemic of positivity doesn’t.
We have the advantage.
(To learn more about how to make friends as an adult, click here.)
Just connecting with others is huge. But our pandemic can do more to “fight fire with fire” and mitigate that other one…
2) Spread Help
Ask people if they need anything. Others might need a little more than well-wishes right now.
Everybody should be doing this. Everybody. Yes, even selfish people. Because being a little selfless can actually be the best way to be selfish.
As University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman, one of the leading experts on happiness, explains in his book, Flourish:
…we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.
And what if you’re not only selfish but you’re also a narcissistic braggart? No problem at all. I encourage you to tell others about how much you’re helping and get credit for it. Yes, really.
When people see others helping, they’re more likely to help. Infect others with the altruistic spirit. Altruism is deeply wired into us as mammals. Even rats (yes, rats) believe in paying it forward.
A recent study in rats showed that the more a rat benefits from the altruism of a stranger rat, the more he will later act benevolently towards stranger rats himself.
And on the flip side, if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it right now.
Most of us (well, the non-selfish, not narcissistic ones) never want to be a burden to others but research shows we vastly underestimate how willing others are to lend a hand:
A series of studies tested whether people underestimate the likelihood that others will comply with their direct requests for help. In the first 3 studies, people underestimated by as much as 50% the likelihood that others would agree to a direct request for help, across a range of requests occurring in both experimental and natural field settings.
Spread help. Spread word that you’re helping to encourage others to help. And ask for help where you need it. Keep the lines of communication flowing so that we can all be getting what we need right now.
(To learn the two-word morning ritual that will make you happy all day, click here.)
So what can we spread that makes us all happier — while also strengthening the bonds of a relationship?
3) Spread Gratitude
Gratitude is the undisputed heavyweight champ of happiness. What’s the research say? Can’t be more clear than this:
…the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.
I know, some are saying there is very little to be grateful for right now. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not but guess what?
Doesn’t matter. You don’t have to find anything. It’s the searching that counts, says UCLA neuroscientist Alex Korb.
It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence. One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.
Spread the gratitude. Sending a thank you text is an awesome way to make two people happy and spread our pandemic of positivity.
Harvard happiness researcher Shawn Achor has tested this — and it works. Here’s Shawn:
The simplest thing you can do is a two-minute email praising or thanking one person that you know. We’ve done this at Facebook, at US Foods, we’ve done this at Microsoft. We had them write a two-minute email praising or thanking one person they know, and a different person each day for 21 days in a row. That’s it. What we find is this dramatically increases their social connection which is the greatest predictor of happiness we have in organizations.
And don’t forget about the people you might be quarantined with. Right now some of us are participating in a 24/7 involuntary reality show with our spouses that can put a strain on any partnership.
…results indicate that one’s felt and expressed gratitude both significantly relate to one’s own marital satisfaction. Cross-partner analyses indicate that the individual’s felt gratitude also predicts the spouse’s satisfaction, whereas surprisingly his or her expressed gratitude does not.
(To learn how to use gratitude to make yourself happier, click here.)
What can we spread that not only makes us all happier but increases grit and even makes us luckier?
4) Spread Optimism
Research shows being optimistic increases happiness, health, resilience and even luck. (Yes, luck — because optimism boosts openness which leads to new opportunities that don’t happen when you say no to everything.)
Some will say there’s a danger in being overly optimistic, that we could go full pollyanna and not take problems seriously. And you know what? They’re right. We need to be careful with optimism so that we don’t neglect serious concerns. Penn professor Martin Seligman has a method to help you strike the balance:
Whenever you’re unsure if optimism is the right way to handle something ask yourself: “What’s the cost of being wrong here?”
The fundamental guideline for not deploying optimism is to ask what the cost of failure is in the particular situation. If the cost of failure is high, optimism is the wrong strategy. The pilot in the cockpit deciding whether to de-ice the plane one more time, the partygoer deciding whether to drive home after drinking, the frustrated spouse deciding whether to start an affair that, should it come to light, would break up the marriage should not use optimism. Here the costs of failure are, respectively, death, an auto accident, and a divorce. Using techniques that minimize those costs is inappropriate. On the other hand, if the cost of failure is low, use optimism.
For instance, if you’re having serious illness symptoms, don’t be optimistic that they’ll clear up on their own and avoid medical care. But if the cost of being wrong is just a minor feeling of disappointment that things didn’t go your way, right now it’s better to stay positive.
And spread that positivity. The resilience-boosting effects of optimism are so strong the US military implemented a plan to teach optimistic thinking to soldiers. And we could all use a little extra resilience right now.
What’s the best way to keep others’ spirits high? Make’em laugh. Humor provides a powerful buffer against stress and fear.
“Humor is about playing with ideas and concepts,” said Martin, who teaches at the University of Western Ontario. “So whenever we see something as funny; we’re looking at it from a different perspective. When people are trapped in a stressful situation and feeling overwhelmed, they’re stuck in one way of thinking: ‘This is terrible. I’ve got to get out of here.’ But if you can take a humorous perspective, then by definition you’re looking at it differently — you’re breaking out of that rigid mind-set.”
Okay, we’ve covered a lot. Time to round it up. And we’ll also learn what science says is the question that best predicts whether you will be alive and happy at age 80…
This is how we can start a pandemic of positivity:
Spread Connection: Just let people know you’re thinking of them and they are meaningful to you.
Spread Help: Offer help where you can and ask for it if you need it.
Spread Gratitude: Say thanks. And really feel it.
Spread Optimism: If the cost of being wrong is low, let yourself believe things will turn out right.
So what does Penn professor Martin Seligman say is the magic question that best predicts if you’ll be alive and happy at age 80?
“Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to?”
If your answer is yes, you will likely live longer than someone whose answer is no. For George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who discovered this fact, the master strength is the capacity to be loved.
Our relationships to other people are often the key to our survival and happiness. That’s something we need to remember right now.
And it’s an idea we need to spread.
So from me to you:
I hope you’re doing well right now.
I hope this blog post has helped you.
Thank you for reading this.
And I really do believe things are going to be better soon.
And with those 4 sentences, hopefully I have spread connection, help, gratitude and optimism to you.
I am proud to be Patient Zero in our new pandemic of positivity.
Now go spread good feelings to the people that you love. We all need them right now.